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BlackBerry Android devices may hold enterprise promise

The first BlackBerry Android smartphone has fueled speculation about the future of BlackBerry 10 devices. Observers say Android is the better option.

BlackBerry's foray into the Android smartphone market could help the struggling vendor attract more enterprise users.

The November release of Priv, the first BlackBerry Android device, raised questions about whether the company would completely ditch its own mobile operating system (OS), BlackBerry 10, which has faltered in the market. Doing so would reposition BlackBerry as an emerging Android device manager and allow the company to focus more on its leading enterprise mobility management (EMM) products.

Given the struggles of BlackBerry 10, it wouldn't be the worst idea for the company to switch to Android entirely, said Robby Hill, founder and CEO of HillSouth, an IT consultancy and BlackBerry partner in Florence, S.C.

"The Blackberry OS is becoming less and less relevant, as companies develop less apps for it," he said. "In this world, where users choose their own mobile device, you have to have a strong OS, with a wide range of apps."

Android has the largest app ecosystem of any mobile OS today -- 1.6 million apps, just ahead of Apple iOS at 1.5 million, according to Statista. BlackBerry comes in fifth, with 130,000.

Why BlackBerry Android devices?

BlackBerry would have been better served discontinuing BB10 years ago, said Dominic Namnath, CIO at Tri-Counties Regional Center, a nonprofit based in Santa Barbara, Calif. Namnath's organization is a former BlackBerry customer that switched to iOS in 2008.

"It is rare that Apple users and Android users switch [to BlackBerry]," he said. "There has to be a net gain that is worth the pain of changing. We went full steam ahead with iPhone, because there was a net benefit."

Still, BlackBerry's brand is widely recognized for its high level of security -- a differentiating factor that could attract customers to its Android devices. 

"The trick is to be the secure device company, no matter what the OS is," said Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass. "If customers are convinced they could get an Android BlackBerry device, and it would be more secure than what's already out there, they would do it."

BlackBerry CEO John Chen insisted in a January blog post that the company will not discontinue BB10, and announced plans for two BB10 upgrades this year. But BlackBerry will also release another Android-based smartphone, and despite saying the company will "continue to invest in BlackBerry 10," Chen did not mention plans for another BB10 device.

BlackBerry focuses on EMM

The conversation around BlackBerry's faltering phone business is a dated one, because the company is no longer a phone manufacturer as much as it is an EMM provider, said Rick Jordan, director of strategic alliances at Tenet Computer Group Inc., a BlackBerry partner in Markham, Ont.

With its $425 million acquisition of Good Technology in September, BlackBerry became a major player in the EMM market. Last month, the company integrated Good Technology and WatchDox -- a secure document-sharing tool it also acquired last year -- into its own EMM platform, BlackBerry Enterprise Service. It also released the new Good Secure EMM Suites, which combine BES, WatchDox and Good's containerization technology.

The acquisition of Good made a lot of sense for BlackBerry, because both vendors' EMM products are strong in the federal government market, Jordan said.

"There is more to BlackBerry than phones," he said. "The acquisitions they've made are huge. It's a combined strategy and makes a lot of sense."

Ramin Edmond is a news writer with TechTarget's End-User Computing Media Group. Contact him at [email protected].

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